By Paul Tuns

The Interim

The United States House of Representatives is considering a law that would protect newly born infants, including those who survive abortions.

The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act would guarantee that babies who survived abortion attempts have the same legal rights as other newborns and that they could not be killed with impunity. According to the Act, a child is considered “born alive” and thus granted personhood when it is completely outside the mother and displays a heartbeat, respiration, or movements of voluntary muscles.

Hadley Arkes, Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, calls the legislation “the most modest and gentlest step” imaginable in the abortion debate. He said the legislation attempts to do what the courts have urged the country to do, which is seek a consensus on the issue. Surely, Arkes said, there must be consensus that the “right” to abortion ends at childbirth because there is no “doubt that we are dealing with a human being – as though the offspring of homo sapiens could have been anything less than human at any phase in its life.”

Rep. Charles Canady, a Florida Republican and chief sponsor of the legislation, said the law is necessary to spell out the rights of newborns in light of recent events that have shown that they have been denied legal protection. Following the Supreme Court’s June decision allowing partial-birth abortion, Canady said, “If the right to abortion entails the right to kill without regard to whether the child remains in the mother’s womb, it would seem to follow that infants who are marked for abortion but somehow survive have no legal right to … any medical care at all.” Canady added, “If a child born alive after a botched abortion does not receive the protection of the law, what is to prevent an abortionist from simply delivering a child and then killing it?”

Indeed, that is already happening. In written testimony, two nurses from Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, said babies, some who might have survived with proper care, are being left to die when they survive abortions. One of the nurses, Jill Stanek, said one of the abortion procedures used at the hospital causes a woman’s cervix to expel a premature baby who dies in the process or shortly after departure from the womb. She told of holding children who briefly survived abortions after 21 to 23 weeks of gestation.

Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, testified that his colleague, Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, says an infant is not a person and thus has no right to life, and that infanticide is the right of a parent. George said, “The legalization of infanticide constitutes a grave threat to the principle of human equality at the heart of American civil rights ideals.” He added, “If weak and vulnerable members of the human family … can be defined out of the community of persons whose fundamental rights must be respected and protected by law, the constitutional principle of equal protection becomes a sham. We must begin now putting into place bulwarks against that threat.”

As would be expected, the National Abortion Rights Action League attacked the bill. In a July 20 press release entitled “Roe v. Wade Faces Renewed Assault in House,” NARAL claimed the bill would legally protect “a non-viable fetus – in direct conflict with Roe.” It promises to fight the legislation as a threat to all abortion.

Debate begun in the House Judiciary Committee on July 25 and some members are trying to fast-track the hearings and legislation. Surely, as Arkes says, Congress can pass a law that unequivocally protects life beginning at birth.